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Head Games: Thin Value. What is it? How can I get it? How do I combat it?

Poker Tips From Brandon Adams, Dan Shak and Derek Pasquarella

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Craig Tapscott: Explain the concept of thin value? Give an example if you wish.

Brandon Adams: Thin value refers to the idea of betting or raising for value with a hand that traditionally would be thought too weak for value extraction in a given spot. For example, suppose you are heads up and have J-T offsuit in position and the flop comes K-T-9 rainbow. You bet the flop and your opponent calls. The turn is a 6 and goes check-check. The river is an ace and your opponent checks. The standard play here would be for you to check. You have a valuable hand – one that is far too good to turn into a bluff. But betting is bad because you probably don’t have the best hand, conditional on being called, and you open up the possibility of a check-raise bluff. Since standard play dictates that one must check in this spot, a bet for value would be considered an attempt at extracting thin value. Typically, a player going for thin value either “knows” where his opponent is at based on a read, or thinks that the frequencies of the player in question are strange enough to justify a far-from-standard play.

Dan Shak: For me, the concept of thin value is a marginal hand that you are pretty sure by the betting action preflop, flop, and on the turn that your marginal hand is probably the best hand. So the question is how much can you bet that you think someone will call with an even more marginal hand than yours. If there has been little or no betting most of the hand, then you will have a better shot of someone calling your river bet with ace-high or third or fourth pair. So you just have to come up with the amount that you think this particular player is likely to call with. Some players may never call no matter what, and some players may call a big overbet so a lot depends on the opponent.

Derek Pasquarella: Thin value is something that is obtained when you extract profit in spots where your hand is more than likely good and most players would be inclined to check back. This bet is made to extract maximum value from a wider portion of your opponent’s range including his stronger hands. A spot that comes up often is when a draw misses and it is unlikely an opponent is going to fold to another bet. Imagine you have bet with J-9 twice on a 7Heart Suit 4Heart Suit 2Spade Suit 9Club Suit board and the KDiamond Suit peels off on the river. We have information from prior hands that our opponent frequently calls with any pair when a draw misses, so we bet for thin value because we still beat the majority of his hands that call us. I remember a hand where I opened the button with JClub Suit 7Diamond Suit and checked back 10Diamond Suit 7Spade Suit 4Spade Suit. The turn was an offsuit 2 and he checked again. I bet for value, knowing he would have bet stronger hands like 10-x and 9-9, and he called. The river peeled off an offsuit K. At this point, I think his range consists of 7-x, small pairs, and some ace-highs. I decided to bet because my opponent was capable of making loose calls versus me. The actual hands that are considered a thin-value bet can differ greatly between various opponents, and gaining an understanding of their calling ranges is very important when making a decision to bet or not.

Craig Tapscott: How do you adjust against and combat an opponent who you recognize is going for thin value too often? What kinds of things can you do to throw a monkey wrench into his game and confuse him?

Brandon Adams: Many times, players who go for thin value too often are the same ones that bluff too often. In this case, you just have to call more often, even if it makes you look stupid some of the time (there’s nothing worse than being “notched” by an opponent who has extracted thin value from you). Most players are overconfident in their ability to put a player on a hand range, so often the player who is going for “thin value” is leveling himself. So, if a player is going for thin value too often, you should adjust your game such that you river check-raise for value more thinly. Many times the player who has value bet thinly will talk himself into calling raises in the worst possible spots. The ability to extract thin value is clearly a distinguishing characteristic of the top players. But it’s an area where intermediate players should proceed with caution. If you’re up against a player that is better than you, a good rule of thumb is to never bet thinly for value without the intention of calling a raise. In general, always remember that if you are betting for thin value, but intend to fold to a raise, you have to have the best hand when called way more than half the time. Getting bluffed out of the pot on the river, after you’ve bet the best hand for “thin value,” is about the worst mistake you can make in poker.

Dan Shak: The opposite of this is when you keep calling an opponent’s marginal thin value river bets and losing is to either try to control more pots against this opponent by betting more often before the river or even raising sometimes on the flop or turn if he is controlling the hand. Where I think it is less likely to work is a random river raise where he can smell out that you are just tired of being bullied around. I find I am more likely to be called or even reraised by today’s good players when I have shown weakness throughout the hand. Of course, against an amateur player, the river raise seems to work fairly often, so again, your opponent in the hand most of the time will dictate your line.

Derek Pasquarella: The best way to combat an opponent value betting very thinly is to first understand when to call with weak hands. For example, say a player opens the button and you call with T-8 suited in the big blind. Then you check/call the flop and turn on T-9-2-2. If he fires three barrels on a brick river with some of his missed draws, but he value bets thinly, then calling a brick river isn’t automatic. It is important to know what this player does with his bluffs on various rivers. In this spot, our opponent bets J-J plus, T-x, A-9, and all his draws on the flop and turn, but you have seen him give up before with his draws on paired boards on the river. If he value bets too thinly, it doesn’t mean he balances these bets by bluffing. This player is reluctant to bluff a paired board on the river because he feels his bet will be called too often, so we can comfortably fold to a river bet. Players who always try to extract maximum value are tough opponents. But, by paying attention to how they play on various board textures, we are able to play some of our weaker hands more profitably. ♠

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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